by John Vento
10 Steps to get you and your Finances where you want to go!
As a result of the 2008 economic meltdown, it became stunningly obvious that many Americans had not managed their finances well. What we learned as the economy slipped into a Great Recession was that many people lived paycheck to paycheck. As a financial advisor, I say it’s time for Americans to get their financial houses in order. Everyone should make reaching financial independence – or their Point X, as I call it – a top priority.
As a CPA and CFP® with decades of experience, I know exactly what it takes to sustain and build wealth. My new book, “Financial Independence (Getting to Point X): An Advisor’s Guide to Comprehensive Wealth Management,” is a complete resource for anyone concerned with building wealth and financial security in today’s no-guarantee financial environment. The following are 10 wealth management issues covered in my book:
1) Live within your means
“Living within your means” is living on less than your take-home salary and any other resources you receive. It means not only figuring out how to pay for your needs and wants, but budgeting your income so that you still have a little money left over. If you are ever going to get to Point X, you must also save money and make payments into your personal savings. Ideally, that payment should be 10 percent or more of your gross pay.
2) Understand taxes
The average American family pays more than one-third of its income in federal, state and local income taxes. Taxes are our biggest personal expense, by far. In order to reach Point X, it is imperative that you understand the basics of our tax system. Tax laws are incredibly complicated, but you should have enough basic knowledge about taxes and the tax system to ask the right questions and find the appropriate help to suit your own unique financial and tax needs.
3) Determine your financial position
Determining your financial position does not mean simply knowing your annual salary or identifying how much you take home in every paycheck. You must have a precise understanding of your financial assets, liabilities and net worth, by preparing a Statement of Financial Position. You also need to know where all your personal funds are coming from and going to; this is your Statement of Cash Flow. Finally, you must determine your financial goals. Only then can you realistically budget for the future – and of course, reach Point X.
4) Manage debt
For many people, debt is a scary concept, although it need not be. The fact is there is good debt and there is bad debt. Understanding the difference between bad debt and good debt is imperative to becoming financially literate and financially independent. When you do not use debt properly, that can lead to significant financial hardship and can prevent you from ever becoming financially independent. However, when you use debt to leverage yourself in the pursuit of accumulating wealth, it can
be a very powerful tool.
5) Insure your health and life
Even a sound, carefully planned investment strategy can fall apart if you have not prepared properly for unforeseen problems. Health insurance and life insurance help protect you and your family from the unexpected. Your particular situation will determine what type of insurance you need, what kind of policy or policies will work best for you, and the amount of coverage you should carry.
6) Protect your property with insurance
Protecting your property by implementing the proper risk management strategies is critical to achieving and maintaining your financial independence. The three major personal property risk management issues include homeowner’s insurance, automobile insurance, and umbrella liability insurance. You should consult with your property liability insurance agent or broker to fully evaluate your needs so that you can determine proper coverage to meet those needs.
7) Pay for college
If you are like most parents, one of your biggest concerns is, “How am I going to pay for my children’s education when the time comes to send them off to college?” Be open with your children about financial decisions and what consequences these decisions will have on the family’s future. Take advantage
of college savings programs such as Internal Revenue Code Section 529 plans, Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, savings bonds and financial aid, as well as education tax deductions and credits. Understanding how scholarships, government grants, and student loans can help is essential.
8) Plan for retirement
Everyone should be planning financially for retirement, regardless of how old or young they are. Remember, one of the most valuable investment assets you have is time; the more years you save the greater your chance of financial success. By far the easiest way to do this is by contributing to your employer’s retirement plan, or if that is not available, to an individual retirement account (IRA).
9) Manage your investments
The rewards of proper investing can be very generous when investors adopt an investment discipline that allows them to purchase quality investments and then allows those investments to take their course. It is critically important that you select an investment model that you are willing to stay with, even in the worst of markets. The appropriate investment plan for you should be the one that provides you with the highest potential rate of return in the long run that is within your risk tolerance.
10) Preserve your estate
If you do not take the necessary steps to preserve your estate, unintended beneficiaries may take a significant amount of your estate instead. Estate planning, which I should stress is not just
for the wealthy, can give you peace of mind by assuring your family’s financial security will continue even after your death. It can significantly reduce estate taxes, administrative costs, and assure that your loved ones will be taken care of.
Financial independence – the point at which we can stop working for our money and our money starts working for us – or Point X, as I call it in my book, is the financial ideal that we all seek. With the right plan and a commitment to making the necessary life changes, anyone can reach their Point X – but you have to be dedicated to making the lifestyle changes and taking the necessary steps to achieve financial security.
John J. Vento has been the president of the New York City-based Certified Public Accounting firm John J. Vento, CPA, P.C., and Comprehensive Wealth Management since 1987. For more information, please visit www.ventocpa.com.